Draco Malfoy. Many of us absolutely hate him. Hermione voiced our thoughts in Prisoner of Azkaban when she called him a “foul, loathsome, evil, little cockroach!” It’s just natural; Rowling wrote this character so that it’s hard, impossible even, to like him.
Draco is racist, arrogant, and conceited; he’s full of himself and thinks he’s better than anyone because of his blood status and his family’s wealth. He bullies the Golden Trio to no end and succeeds in putting Slytherin House against them. He was also Umbridge’s minion, tried to kill Dumbledore, hurt Katie Bell, and became a Death Eater at age seventeen. Draco Malfoy seems to be evil to the core. Even his last name, “bad faith” in French, seethes with evilness. You could say he deserves all the hatred the fandom can muster. But… is this really the case? Is Draco really someone “evil”?
In my case, I now find it hard to hate this character. I think I understand him to some degree, and I pity him rather than despise him. If you take a look at the circumstances in which Draco grew up, it would be unrealistic to expect him to become something different. Most of his family was pureblood and believed that this fact made them superior to the rest. Many, including his own father, were Death Eaters. Draco grew up in an environment where all that mattered was blood and money. Also, unlike Harry, who was constantly mistreated by the Dursleys and thus grew to hate them, or Sirius, who grew up in similar conditions to Draco and hated his family and everything they represented, Draco seems to love his close family. He never showed any signs of having been mistreated by his parents; they appear to care about him, and despite feeling intimidated by his father, Draco cares for them. His parents, with all their flaws and prejudices, are role models for him. It’s not strange for this character to be so concerned about purity and wealth in the same way his parents were.
Sirius stood up against his own family during the First Wizarding War next to the other members of the Order of the Phoenix. He grew up in a similar environment to that of Draco; they are even related by blood. Apart from hating his family, Sirius had the chance to continue growing next to people who didn’t care about social status and purity when he became a Gryffindor at his arrival to Hogwarts. Draco didn’t have this opportunity. He became a Slytherin and continued interacting with people who had similar backgrounds and ideals to his, supporting the prejudices set by his parents and preventing him from snapping out of them easily.
In addition, Draco seems to be quite an insecure character. He is incredibly jealous of Harry, who is famous and loved by the wizarding world. In Chamber of Secrets, we hear from Lucius Malfoy just how much Draco complains about Harry and the rest of the Golden Trio. His friendship was rejected by Harry, whom he saw as a potential ally, on his first day of school. Harry isn’t just the object of his jealousy but also someone who hurt his pride. Draco is not used to being humiliated because where he grew up, people lived to serve him and fear his surname. Harry’s attitude toward him is like a slap to him. It’s no wonder that he harbors such hatred toward Harry and his friends.
Then, there’s the fact that Draco goes through a great deal of psychological pressure during the last two books of the series. People tend to mature and let go of their prejudices as they learn and grow up, but there’s no space for that in Draco’s life. His father is in jail, his family has been once again humiliated by Harry Potter, and the wizarding world is against him. When Draco becomes a Death Eater, he is a teenager filled with hatred and resentment. The Dark Lord himself has given him a mission with which he can bring back the “former glory” of his family. Plus, if he doesn’t succeed, Draco and the people he loves will be in trouble. It’s easy to think this character is plain evil, that he’s another bad guy to hate. But the last two books of the series show us the struggle he goes through as he tries to protect his family and obtain the Dark Lord’s approval by playing his part as a Death Eater. Rowling even shows us a trace of kindness when Draco claims not to recognize the Golden Trio after they have been brought to his manor by the Snatchers. In the end, I believe Draco Malfoy isn’t just another bad guy but a complex character going through a rough adolescence, another victim of the war.